From takeout orders and delivery boxes to packing supplies and cups, Styrofoam is everywhere. If you notice a bunch of Styrofoams piling up in your home, you may be wondering how you can dispose of them aside from simply tossing them in the trash.
Many are aware of the harmful effects of Styrofoam on the environment. However, Styrofoam is difficult and expensive to recycle, making it much more difficult to get rid of compared to other recyclable materials.
Here’s what you need to know about Styrofoam, its effects on the environment, and how to dispose of it responsibly.
What is Styrofoam Made Of?
Styrofoam is a lightweight, strong foam that is typically capitalized because it is a proprietary name. Styrofoam likely made up the little packing peanuts in any packages you’ve ever received. Since Styrofoam is divisive, several places have stopped using it.
Products made of Styrofoam are deemed hazardous to the environment since they are not biodegradable.
Styrene, a petroleum byproduct, is used to create Styrofoam. The styrene is transformed into a transparent molten mass of polystyrene by the intricate chemical process known as polymerization. Disposable serving ware is composed of this kind of polystyrene.
Can Styrofoam be Disposed of Safely?
Yes, but it’s challenging. Styrofoam does not deteriorate or break down over time because it is virtually entirely constructed of petroleum compounds. Although it may be recycled under intense pressure, the amount of Styrofoam that is discarded daily around the world completely overwhelms these recycling facilities.
Styrofoam may be destroyed by burning it at very high temperatures; the only byproducts produced are a little amount of water and carbon. However, if it is burned in a regular fire as opposed to a dedicated incinerator, it releases pollutants, including carbon monoxide and black carbon.
Why is Styrofoam Harmful to the Environment?
Do you know the precise environmental impact of Styrofoam? The majority of people are aware of its negative effects.
The fact that Styrofoam is not biodegradable is not the only issue with it. Styrofoam hurts the environment in numerous other ways as well. There are three major consequences of Styrofoam.
It Stacks Up in Landfills
Around the world, 30 percent of landfills are filled with Styrofoam products. This figure should worry everyone because landfills are quickly filling up. Every day, 1,369 tons of Styrofoam are buried in landfills in the United States.
Numerous towns and nations have outlawed the use of Styrofoam in commercial settings because of its detrimental consequences. These include Oregon, California, Washington, Manila, the Philippines, Canada, France, Portland, and Taiwan.
It’s Full of Toxic Pollutants
Styrene, which is present in Styrofoam, contaminates the food and beverage offered in Styrofoam containers. The same container emits dangerous air pollutants that contaminate landfills and weaken the ozone layer when it is exposed to sunshine.
Large volumes of ozone are released into the atmosphere during the production of Styrofoam, posing health and environmental risks. The annual use of billions of Styrofoam cups in convenience stores, dining establishments, and break rooms results in environmental pollution from landfills.
It’s Harmful to Animals
One of the most dangerous wastes now in use, Styrofoam has a severe effect on the natural balance of our planet. Animals rummaging for food from landfills are harmed by Styrofoam. Normally, Styrofoam items easily shatter into little fragments that might suffocate animals.
How to Dispose of Styrofoam
Now that you know a bit more about Styrofoam and how it affects the environment, you will probably be curious about how you can dispose of it and which ways will allow you to get rid of the Styrofoam you’ve accumulated without contributing to the harmful impacts associated with this household plastic-based product.
Can You Throw Styrofoam in the Trash?
The quick answer is that, yes, you can throw away Styrofoam, but should you? Styrofoam is really light—in fact, it contains 95% air—but it takes up a lot of room in landfills. Therefore, even while the answer is yes, it doesn’t follow that you should.
Styrene, a substance that the National Toxicology Program has identified as potentially carcinogenic, is used to make EPS (Expanded Polystyrene Foam). The styrene inside them might leach out if you throw them in the trash, harming our ecosystems.
So how should you get rid of Styrofoam if you shouldn’t throw it away and most curbside haulers won’t take it in the recycling bin?
Believe it or not, there are some ways that you can reuse Styrofoam without causing any undue harm to the environment or yourself. Here are a few examples to get you started!
If you’ve ever considered acquiring any sizable potting pots, you are aware that once they are filled with soil, they are impossible to move. To fill in some of the space, shred some Styrofoam or use some packing peanuts. You’ll not only save money but the drainage will also be improved.
Use an old cooler made of Styrofoam to create a container. Look at how adorable that turned out! It was spray painted with some leftover paint, had a few drainage holes drilled at the bottom, was filled with dirt, and had a few plants in it. It is very adorable! If I can only keep it going.
Check with any nearby pharmacies to see if they can reuse the foam coolers as another option. Foam cups work well as seed starters for non-edible plants. Simply drill a few holes in the bottom of the container to allow for drainage and start the seeds before transferring them to your garden. I can also be used in various arts and crafts projects.
How Can You Recycle Styrofoam?
You just need to locate the many locations where you may dispose of Styrofoam. Styrofoam collection bins are available in some grocery shops, such as Publix, where you may put things like cups, meat trays, and food takeout containers. Just make sure you get them ready correctly.
You can typically take packing peanuts to a postal facility like UPS or PakMail. To be sure, give a call in advance. If you don’t live near a Publix location, there are many other resources to find a nearby solution. Here are just a few:
- Polystyrene is listed in the database that Earth911 keeps for various items.
- The EPS Industry Alliance gives details on where you can mail it to be recycled (at a cost). The environmental effects of foam are discussed in great detail on this page. However, keep in mind that this corporation has business interests that may affect the reliability of the information.
- Polystyrene is covered in great detail on Foam Facts, along with where you can recycle it. This website contains a wealth of knowledge concerning foam’s effects on the environment, as well as its health and safety, but keep in mind that they have a commercial interest.
- Contact disposal and recyclable drop-off sites near your home. Many of these drop-off events off solutions for items that are hard to dispose of.
- Search for and contact local recycling facilities and enquire whether they accept Styrofoam products.
How is Styrofoam Recycled?
Styrofoam is recyclable; however, it is more expensive to recycle on a large scale than glass or cardboard since it is lightweight, bulky, hard to clean because of its porous nature, and frequently used in food packaging.
Because of this, most curbside recycling facilities don’t accept or are unable to recycle EPS products. Fortunately, there are many research projects trying to create new ways to degrade Styrofoam at an efficient rate – these projects have even found bacteria that can break down this material at a rate that’s 12% faster than the current methods (or lack thereof).
For now, recycling facilities must complete a multi-step recycling process that includes:
- Inspecting, separating, and cleaning the Styrofoam
- Grinding the Styrofoam into a “fluff”
- Using heat and friction to melt this “fluff” to remove all the air
- Apply pressure to extract specific components, turning them into plastic that can be used for many different things, including toys
The Bottom Line on Styrofoam Disposal
In short, Styrofoam is a very stubborn material that takes so long to break down that it is considered biodegradable. The only way to truly curb the overabundance of Styrofoam in already full landfills is to avoid products made with Styrofoam and consume fewer products that require its packaging.
While you can toss it in the trash, there are ways to get rid of it in a more eco-friendly manner. Your best bet is to look for a local collection facility or business that will take it off your hands – sometimes at a cost to you.
Because of its incredibly complicated recycling process, it may be hard to find one that is close. If this is the case, get creative and find new ways to reuse it around your home. Just be sure that it’s not used to grow anything that you consume.
Check out our other article post on how to recycle a variety of items.